Saturday, August 31, 2013

25 Elul 5773: Begin

and possibility
Blank pages
filled with untold stories
and unmade mistakes


They have that shiny
new car smell,
Even if just a
a journey
or a crossword puzzle--
all pristine clean
and unfilled squares.

They all smell like new
just off the line
All potential and

They are nerves
and butterfly stomachs
Sharp-edged and eager
Let's go, let's go
Come on

We start on the edge
Poised between
and possibility
A step
A breath
A, instant
twined with want
wrapped in need
healed by hope

An eternal now
to start
To go
To let go
To begin

Friday, August 30, 2013

24 Elul 5773: End

I like to live in the Land of Forever.

You know that place, don't you? It's the place I go, when things go wrong. In the blink of an eye, my bags are packed, I'm pitching my tent and setting up permanent camp in a very bad neighborhood (where I regularly mug myself) that stretches from here to infinity. It is a place of brokenness and twisted, stunted weeds. It is vast and empty and lonely as hell. All roads lead there, though nothings gets out. It has no end, and no real beginning.

It is forever.

I have been there many times. It is the always the same: driven by my fear, I huddle in that vast and empty place, sure that it will always be this dark; I will always be this broken; i will always, always, always be this alone, world without end, amen.

I am so profoundly grateful that I can say that every time I have made this leap -- every single time, no matter how tightly I cling to this vision, no matter how sure I am that this time there will be no way back--  I have been wrong. The darkness ends. My brokenness heals.

This too shall pass. ever and always: this, too, shall pass.

There is no Land of Forever. It is the underlying gift of Elul and the coming Days of Awe: this, too, shall pass. There will be healing and grace and redemption.

Don't get me wrong-- it is not automatic, and not necessarily a quick sprint down the road. I have to act. I have to choose. I have to put one foot in front of the other. That road can be painfully long. I swear, there have been times that I've been dragged, kicking and screaming, so that there are deep scratch marks where my nails bit into the hard dirt of that road. As I've said: I am somewhat enamored of the drama of Forever.

This, too, shall pass.

Life, I have been shown, is not a linear thing. It is a spiral, a helix, a circular, circuitous road. I can wander this road, clinging desperately to the infinite strands of stuff that I carry with me. I can carry my pain and my sorrow from place to place. There are times that I do (though not quite so much these days, thank God). I can try to carry my joy as well, and cling to that just as hard.

It all passes, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. It passes and then returns, a fluid and graceful dance along the spiral. Just as I return, to stand before the gates, and ask for grace, for healing and forgiveness. The year ends and begins again, in a single breath, a single heartbeat, in the sound of the ram's horn. Ending and beginning, again.

For all the talk of endings, I am drawn back, as always, to the idea of God, who is, I believe, without end (Ein Sof). This is the poem I wrote to capture my relationship with the God of No End, originally posted September 10, 2012

there is not separation

there is God
whose spirit hovers
like breath
like life
twined and waiting

there is not beginning in this
and no end to this earth that touches
this heaven that laps at
this sea
that slips into
this darkness
that has no end
that is ein sof

there is not sound
in this endless beginning
no voice that calls
and dances on
liquid night
a canopy of eternity in the
midst of waiting

so expectant!
so lonely and eager a God
a wanting and endless God
whose breath is the sea
whose voice is the earth
whose touch is the heavens
who dances in darkness
and light
liquid as night
sharp as need
soft as desire

a separate thing altogether
a severing moment
in an eternity of moments
a division of earth that touches
heaven that laps at
the sea
that dances in spiral prisms
that limns each thing
each separate thing
of earth and heaven and sea
that is beloved of God
that breathes
and moves
and is still
and is gathered
and calls
each to each
one to another

to separate the
and find the edges of
to rim the world in an endless moment
a tidal moment
a gathering, waiting, and restless moment

and there will i dance
in the palm of God's hand
and then will i sing
an expectant psalm
an endless hosanna
a bursting and
rising song

Thursday, August 29, 2013

23 Elul 5773: Love

This is the part where I write some lyrical, transcendent passage about love, from the depths of my soul, the flame of my heart. This is the part where I quote some sage or poet-- some really cool and together person who has Figured It All Out and Has The Answers for the eternal and redemptive power of love. This is the part where I write soppy love songs and sonnets, make rhymes with swoon and June and moon.

This is the part where I talk about feelings.


Let's face it: love is hard.  It can be conditional. It is rarely eternal. It is always a risk. It is vulnerability and the chance for pain-- yours and mine both.It's not just hard; it's scary. So much so that, at some point, after enough pain, enough hurt, enough tears in the name of love, I decided I would never do that again, thank you very much. I closed myself off, sheathed myself in ice and watched.

My heart, such as it was, became a mountain of glass-- hard and smooth, with nary a foothold or crack. Nothing was getting in. Nothing was getting out. I was captive and captor both: safe, protected, inviolate.

I was lonely. Desperately lonely. I couldn't imagine being loved. Not ever. And why would anyone, when I pushed away anyone who ventured to breach my heart of glass? How could anyone, when I was so clearly unlovable and broken?

When I got sober, the people in the rooms gave me the greatest gift I'd ever been given: they loved me. Not because of, not in spite of. They just did. And they didn't want anything in return. Free and unconditional. Love. No matter how much I pushed back, they smiled, they nodded (they remembered) and told me to keep coming back. They said "We'll love you until you learn to love yourself." 

And they did. They held out their arms to shelter me and ease my pain. They let me stumble around while I learned to find my way in the dark. They showed me how to face fear and still walk forward. They taught me that I was not broken beyond repair, and that I-- even I -- could find redemption. 

Love is a gift. It can make me giddy and breathless. It can bring comfort and offer hope. It is shelter and strength and redeeming. It is holy-- the holiest act of all: it is me, standing before you, giving you the power to hurt me (and doing it anyway). 

I've been going around and around, trying to come up with that quintessential something-or-other that will tie this all up in a perfect and pretty bow. I can't. As much as love is a holy gift, a sacred act, it is also messy and uneven, a rocky path that twists and turns and veers into unknown waters. There ain't no guarantees. 

And yet-- you do it anyway. 

You love. And with that simple and brave and holy act, you find healing and grace.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

22 Elul 5773: Dare

On my one year sober anniversary, I felt somewhat at a loss. I mean, really-- how in the world do you celebrate anything, if not with a flute or seven of champagne (merely as a prelude to the serious drinking that was sure to follow)? I went to my regular meeting and announced for all the world to hear (or at least the 27 people who were present): I have one year, today.

I'd seen the drill a thousand times. OK, maybe not a thousand, but at least one or two at every meeting I went to (which was pretty much a daily occurrence), someone announce his or her anniversary. Some counted days. Some, months. There were many of these folks at every meeting. For some, it took months, sometimes years, to put some time together. Often, we'd hear "I have 3 days. Again" or "I'm back. Got two weeks this time." Some iteration of time and desperation and hope.

Incremental anniversaries were announced, but there were always a helluva lot fewer people making these announcements as the years went up. Two years. Three. Seven. Seventeen. With each bigger chunk of time, the number of people to reach those milestones became fewer. One year anniversaries were kinda special. At the one year mark, it was as if you had crossed a magic line-- you'd made it, member of the club. Not that it would be a slam-dunk guarantee of sobriety, forever and ever, world without end, amen. Not that (not ever that). But at a year, there was a recognition that, at the very least, there was a chance that sobriety just might stick. 

So I announcded my anniversary. I felt a little proud; I felt a little lost. There was applause and exclamatory congratulations flew across the room. I got the obligatory "How'd ya do it?" followed quickly with my equally obligatory "With the help of God and the fellowship of this program!" It was a script we'd all played at before, in one role or another. Right at that moment, I didn't believe a word of any of it.

Frankly, I had no idea how the hell I'd stayed sober for a year. 

We went for coffee and to grab a bite after the meeting. No champagne. :) I got a chip-- a brass coin-- embossed with a giant Roman numeral I on one side, and "To thine own self be true" on the other. I got a rose. And I got a card. The front was kinda sappy-- watercolor flowers and "Hooray! Hooray!" Lots of exclamation points. Or at least, it felt like a lot. I opened it. 

This was another of those truth things, found unexpectedly. It hit me between the eyes and took my breath away. Hooray, hooray--

"You did the thing you feared the most!"

And I realized, in that instant, that I had. Sobriety was a terrifying prospect when I was just starting. How in the world can you live without a drink to calm you and protect you and put a glassy, fluid shield between you and the rest of the universe? How in the world do you face life raw and vulnerable? How in the world can anyone dare to hope-- that things will change, the life gets better, that there is forgiveness and perhaps even love? 

How? A day at a time. A day at a time, a minute, an hour, a breath-- you do the thing you fear the most. 

In honor of that long ago moment, that changed my life and opened my heart; in honor of this month of Elul, for today, for this moment, I will dare to live of life of hope. I will dare to trust, and pray, and believe. For today, I will let faith overrule my fear. For this moment, I will brave the shadows. For today, I will reach out to offer strength and kindness, to shine a light in your darkness.

For today, for this moment, in this breath-- this eternal and infinite breath-- I will do the thing I fear the most, and I will dare to leap...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

21 Elul 5773: Change (part 2)

I turn and churn
and swirl.
a whirling dervish
of motion
non stop
and restless
flirting with the
jagged edges of

It is an endless
and eternal
never the same--
not the stream
nor the path
nor the days
with worlds enough
and time.

Never the same
not ever,
and I
skate along the crumbling edge
flirting with the razor-edged rim

But it does not
Not this dance,
not this slipstream
dream of
sharp edges

To change
is to
to bow out of
the dance,
To chance
a slow and steady
One measure
One note
One step
One breath--

One sideways
to be


Monday, August 26, 2013

20 Elul 5773: Judge

When I was a teenager, I had a close friend who would call me Madame DeFarge-- the villain of A Tale of Two Cities.  He claimed I would sit on the sidelines of life, quietly knitting away, all the while playing judge, jury and executioner with anyone who happened to wander into my path.

 “Off with their heads!” That was the verdict, every time. There was very little give in me. No one was exempt from my judgment—mainly because everyone was guilty. No one managed to succeed in the arduous but necessary task of saving me from myself.

Off with their heads, indeed.

I liked watching life from the edges back then. I stood on the borders, waiting, watching. Judging. It was safe. It was comfortable. And the verdict was always the same, so how could I be hurt? How could I be disappointed?

How could I ever not be disappointed? I lived in an endless loop of disconnection and separation. I set everyone up to be my God, then cried “Guilty!” with every failure. I judged the world, and found the world wanting. 

I'm happy to report that I don't do that so much these days. Over the years, I learned to temper my judgment with mercy and kindness. Mostly. Sure-- there are times, when I'm hungry, angry, lonely, tired-- lost in the the inimitable maze of HALT (an acronym I learned in early sobriety, and which has stood me in good stead). It is always useful, as a way to keep me in check, to curb my natural instinct for judgment and cynicism and biting sarcasm. It's a challenge, but one that can be subdued (not conquered quite, but I'm practicing progress, not perfection)-- when I can stop for a minute or three, and breathe, and get out of my own way.

Ahhhhhhh. I allow you to be you, in all your glory, free of my judgment and drama. 

One small kink in this rosy scene. When I'm being honest, and open and diving that extra few inches in honor of Elul, there is (of course) a hitch. When it comes to the fine and laser-sharp art of judging, the kind that draws blood and wreaks some amount of havoc in its jagged-edged wake, there is one person who falls outside the bounds of my compassion-- who has always fallen outside those walls, and lives in the constant shadow of Mme. DuFarge's harshness.


While I may have learned, over the years, to let you off the hook of my judgment, I haven't yet learned-- with any consistency-- to find that respite for myself. I often judge my insides by your outsides. You look happy and shiny and thin and popular and successful and smart and together and competent. So you must be, right? And I? I know what goes on in my head. I know those voices quite well, the ones that whisper in sibilant snatches that I am less than and unwanted and weak.They are the same voices that tell me I cannot be forgiven, I will not be redeemed. They are the voices that declare me wanting, again and again and again.

I have no idea (for the most part) if the stories I tell myself in the dark, have anything to do with reality. I have no idea if you are, in fact, happy and shiny and popular and successful, and all those other ands. You may be. Thing is, it doesn't really matter. 

You get to be who you are, in all your glory. And that is enough. One day, if I practice enough, if I ask for help enough, if I stop and breathe and get out of my own way enough, I will finally put down the knitting needles and allow myself to be me, in all my glory. I will temper my judgment with mercy and compassion and love.

And I will be enough.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

19 Elul 5773: Ask

Why is the sky blue?
Can I go out to play?
How high is up?
Where are you going?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Where are you going?

All day long, all our lives, we ask: why? Can I? Will you? Should we? It's another holy grammar-- the conjugation of petition. Tone changes, of course. Inflection is important. Under it all, there is a bedrock of want and need.

We ask constantly and without thinking in our insatiable need to know.

And I know it sounds as if I have an issue with this. I don't. I thirst for the whys and the wherefores of my life. I read encyclopedias and dictionaries as a kid. OK-- as an adult, too, but it sounds so much less geeky to admit to the practice from my childhood.  These are the public questions, the ones that can be paraded in front of God and everybody, and they often come with handy source books and reference guides.

Then there are the somewhat less public questions. Who am I? How do I fit? Where am I going? These are the good angsty, existential questions that hounded me early on, that I hid from for what seemed like forever, that I came to terms with at some point, and which, these days, still pop up, swirl around my head for a while before settling down in some dusty box I keep in storage in some dark corner, buried deep. 

As I'm writing this, I am noticing something curious: all these questions-- I ask them of myself. As Elul goes, they're perfectly fine and natural questions. That I ask them throughout the year? It's all good. During Elul, I shift the world, bend the light, change the perspective of my questions. I dive deeper and with more intention, I go out to meet the questions here, rather than notice them as they come buzzing. 

Who am I?
How do I fit?

And because this is Elul, I find I cannot stop here. this is a time to dive in and reach out. This is the leaping part, the scary part. Lana Del Rey's song, Young and Beautiful, has been haunting me all afternoon, as I've been writing this-- the chorus, at least. "Will you still love me when I'm no longer young, and beautiful? Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul?" (If you haven't heard it, take a minute to listen. Go ahead. I'll wait.)

This is raw and naked need. These aren't the Colorform questions, the ones I stick up on a shiny board to dress them with shiny shaped plastic, trying on all the pretty colors to see what works best. These are the questions that sear your soul, the ones that keep you up at night, and make your skin clammy. 

Will you love me? 
Will you forgive me? 
Can I come home? 
Will there be anyone around to care? 

We can't not ask them. They're a part of who we are and how we fit. They're also a part of Elul-- the reaching out and up part, the part that stretches us and redeems us. The part that can make us whole.

This would have been enough -- dayenu -- , I think, for my blog post of the day (18 Elul). It would have, but then I saw some postings from Women of the Wall, and what is happening at the Kotel (the Wall, in Jerusalem). The Minister of Religious Services has announced his support of a plan that would erect a balcony at the Robinson Arch, effectively exile women-- and any Jew who prays in a way that does not conform to ultra-Orthodox tradition-- away from the area of the Wall where Jews have prayed for generations. It is another effort, in a long series of mindful, concerted efforts, to keep women who want to pray at the Wall separate from, exiled from, excluded from this place. This holy and sacred place. 

So they are sitting in. Now, even as I type this, they are sitting in, and praying and coming together and asking that we join them This is also raw and aching need. They are not asking for crumbs or second-rate solution. They are asking for a place. They are asking for a place at the Wall, to pray and celebrate and grieve and hear the still, small voice of God. A place that has been denied them, again and again. 

This weekend, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's march on Washington. We asked questions then, too. Can we be one nation? Can we demand fairness and justice? Can we declare the rights we all have, to vote, to work and learn and live as we choose? Can we eradicate the intrinsically unfair notion of Separate but Equal? It was a bloody and difficult battle, but we declared, from Selma to Stone Mountain, Chicago to Detroit to Birmingham to Watts-- from sea to shining sea-- we answered: "There will be justice." 

Part of asking is also the obligation to respond. 

     Will you love me? 
     Will you forgive me? 
     Can I pray, and lift up my voice to God, in this sacred and holy place? 

How will you respond? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

18 Elul 5773: Pray

I start with the premise that it's all Torah. All of it, all of us-- we are all wrapped in the scrolls of Torah, playing out the glory of life. And because it's all Torah, I take my truth wherever I find it. I find it everywhere (after all, everywhere is Torah, right?) I just need to notice it, recognize it.

A bunch of years ago, I was locked in fierce combat while angels danced across ladders and I dreamed of God and slept on a rock-strewn bed. The battle raged for a small slice of forever. Sometimes I danced with the angels, sometimes I wrestled with God. It all but consumed me. 

And then: truth. Just like. Truth and I slept and did not dream and found the gates of heaven, and finally knew they'd been there all along. 

Truth then (and now, because this remains the most profound truth I have ever kept, and it has changed my life forever) came from a movie. Shadowlands, to be exact. It's a great movie about the author of the Narnia books (and others),  a flawed man who finds love, and God, and himself. See it, if you haven't. I will not bore you with the details, except to share one scene. C.S. Lewis is leaving his wife's hospital bed. She is dying, and he is bereft. He meets a few colleagues, Oxford dons like himself, who, in a singular act of cruelty and contempt, stop Lewis-- who had made a name for himself as a charismatic Christian, giving lectures throughout England with the basic premise "everything happens because God made it so; therefore, anything that happens must be good and right--  and ask (in effect) "How's that prayer thing working for you now?" Lewis looks up at them, and with profound sadness and weariness, says "Prayer doesn't change God. Prayer changes me."

That simple statement may have saved my life. It certainly changed my life, and changed my relationship to prayer and God. 

I don't pray to a Santa Claus God. I don't pray to a God who may or may not listen, who mostly stays silent and aloof. I can whisper, I can shout, I can raise holy hell in my prayer. I can take God to task, I can plead and question and struggle and doubt. I can even croon a bit, and sing lullabies and love songs to God. Because, what I finally discovered, when I finally heard that truth, that prayer changed me, not God, I realized that it doesn't matter what I pray. What matters, ever and always, is that I pray. Because when I pray, I am changed. The world shifts and the light bends and I can hear God's voice, God's answer. A still small voice deep within me, though more often than not, I hear God's voice in the voices of others.

When I pray, I open myself up to hearing answers and finding comfort.

How do I know this works? Ha. Today, at morning services, I had a tantrum. Not attractive in a woman who is old plus two. People were not behaving the way I thought they should. People were disturbing my prayer, my service, my time with God and the soft, golden light of a Saturday morning. I had, as it were, a fit of pique.

One woman, in particular, was pressing every button, standing on every nerve. This is not new. She is old and mean and demands to be the center of attention, even in the middle of a service. This week's parasha is filled with blessings and curses. I was cursing plenty. And then, in the middle of the Amidah (the silent part), I remembered that this week's Torah portion also reflects on a prayer-- for a heart that knows and eyes that see. So I prayed differently today, and asked for an open heart.

And this is what I saw: an old woman, alone and in desperate, perhaps hopeless spiritual pain. So much so that all she can give to her community is a portion of that pain. How incredibly sad-- to be looked at with pity and disdain by your chosen community. And as so often happens, my prayer did not change God, but , when I ask and seek with even the slightest bit of humility and humanity-- my prayer changes me.

As a result, in the middle of the Amidah, I went from petulant child to something quite different-- I am trying to understand what we as a community, what I as a part of that community, can do to ease her pain. I know that I cannot fix her. That's not my job. But how do I respond to her and her pain? How do I satisfy my need to pray and connect in the face of her rage and despair? 

I'm not trying to be codependent about this, but there has to be a balance-- doesn't there? True, she is disruptive and explosive, she will not listen; nor does she (apparently) care what her actions do to the flow of the service. It is also clear, I think, that she feels apart from, separated from. She feels that she is The Other, the stranger in our midst. We are commanded to remember the stranger, for we were strangers once. We are commanded to care for the stranger, for he is us. 

I fear I did not act very Jewishly in this. I fear I did not act very humanly-- or maybe the problem is that I acted all too humanly. I will pray, and be changed, and I will hear the voice of God. And I will know, when I ask for a heart that knows and eyes that see, I will reach out, b'tzelem elohim - in the image of God - and make a holy space next to me for everyone, even this bitter woman, this stranger who is, after all, me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

17 Elul 5773: Awaken

I don't think I'm always awake for my own life. I'm way too distracted. At times, my focus is totally inwards, so that I miss much of what goes on around me. At others, I'm all external, which means I skip over the me in those experiences-- how I fit, what I feel, what I bring, and what I take away.

It is not a very present life. It is not a very intentional life. It's a life lived later, or next week, or not at all.

A few months ago, I was at OSRUI for Shabbat Shira-- a retreat that combined song and prayer and community and holiness in a profoundly rich and wondrous handful of days. On Friday morning, for shachrit, we participated in a movable feast-- a service that literally moved us from one place to the next, had us praying and eating and singing that bent the light, so to speak. In each place in the service-- physically, spiritually, mentally, we were asked to notice differently, challenged to engage differently, so that every one of our senses was awake and aware.

It was a sacred, holy thing. I think I caught fire-- or at least my head and my heart did. We walked together to the lake, and I could think-- be aware of, awake for-- how the cold hit my body, how the path lay dappled in gentle light, the sweet scent of a distant fire. I heard the crackle of stiff leaves fighting with the song of birds and tasted the first hint of winter.

While we all stood at the lake, water lapping at the shore and the sun filling a cloudless sky, we prayed, we were awakened to the miracle of a new day. I am infinitely grateful that I am awake and alive and part of the wonders that fill every moment and make every moment holy. 

This is what I wrote that day. This is what I took away:

We walked
From one place to another
In quiet wonder at the rising of the morning.
Light filled us
And color.
Under canopies of gold
Shot through with green
And strong branches
Flecked with a suddenness of blue
Stretching halfway to forever.
Geese and crows
Sang their psalms
To the One
Of Creation and
A murmurous mix of
The shuffles of leaves
A muffled crunch
Signaling summer's slow end
Soft-voiced under canopies of gold.
Chill air coiled around my fingers
My bare-skinned fingers
And the rough bark of
Bare trees
Suddenly bared
Gently, sweetly bared
Yet rough
Edged in hardness
And sudden sweet chill.
They began
They ended
Distinct and edged
In beginning to end
What I saw
What I heard
What I felt
On that wondrous
That glorious
That holy walk we took
To greet the rising of the day.
That scent of morning
On that shared path
That leaf-edged path--
The morning scents were
Were not quite
And in-between.
They urged me on
Brought me here to this edge
Quickening me to this light-filled edge
This beginning
this ending
Of earth and sky
With such fullness
A richness of sound and light and still,
With an ever-present
(From my blog, titled Modah Ani, posted October 2012)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

16 Elul 5773: Change

When I was in graduate school, I took a seminar in Early Modern French history (hey-- I was fascinated by the subject, but then again, I'm a wonk of the first order). I wrote a critical analysis on Voltaire's use of the words "public" and "public opinion" in both his writings on politics and those regarding theatre (again-- I am a wonk...). What I found was that, in all matters pertaining to theater and culture, Voltaire was a true proletariat, encouraging The Public to weigh in on matters small and large, as was their God-given right.

He cautioned a very different tale when talking about the political arena. Here, The Public were just this side of cretinous boob: small-minded, uninformed, knuckle-dragging inferiors, who should leave governing and politics and law to their betters, who'd had the very good sense to be born into the noble classes.

Same man. Same word. Couldn't be a more different approach, result, outlook if he'd tried (and trust me, he didn't) (he was really okay with inconsistency).

Call me the Voltaire of change.

I am all for social change. World shattering, life altering stuff-- housing is a right, not a privilege. So is food, and access to medical care, living in a safe place, drinking safe water. I left graduate school to work for ACORN back in the eighties, long before it was made into a dirty word by the Tea Baggers. We fought for change. Lived it, organized for it. We took a page from Saul Alinsky and made it into a thing of real and awesome beauty.

When I worked for United Way and helped run corporate giving campaigns, I moved people to action, urging them to give, to get involved, to change the world. And I let them all know that every time they did something, they were, in fact, changing the world. 

I'm all for changing the world. It needs to be changed. 

I'm all for changing you. Not in that icky, co-dependent way of changing you to fit my expectations, but, you know, it's probably not a bad idea for you to, you know, take a look at yourself and do some minor repair work.

It's the changing me piece that I have issues with.

Believe me-- it's not that I think I'm perfect. I so know that I am not. I know all the cute little slogans: if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. If nothing changes, nothing changes. You know what they call someone who does the same thing again and again expecting different results? I'm sure there are more, but I'm typing quickly (it is amazing how fast 24 hours can go by when you've committed to blogging something new every day). You get the picture.

Change is hard.

Change is hard, for me, when I look at it as something I have to do. It is exhausting and daunting and overwhelming and so frikking difficult. And who knows what will happen on the other side? Who knows how the world will look or who I'll be or how I will fit? It's not hard. It's a scary impossibility.

But (there's always a "but"). But I don't need to look at it like that. I don't have to change. How about: I get to change. I am allowed to change, being given the opportunity to do something differently. I don't have to do the same things again and again, and then spend the next slice of eternity kicking myself (or worse) because nothing happened. Nothing was different. Wherever I go, there I am. 

I remember what it was like, who I was. I remember the breathless agony of my life, living in a tiny universe of one, where nothing changed, ever. Where I was lost and alone and broken. All the time, world without end, amen. I remember, when nothing changed and the world stood still, that despair was my stock in trade and hope was a dirty, dangerous secret. I remember when my only prayer was (a much more earthy version of) "Screw you, God!" 

I may or may not have had to change. What I will never forget is that I get to change. Every day. Every day, I have the ability to do something different. To shift my perspective and bend the light and move. Breathe. Change. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's all good. I will get the chance to do something different, to practice change tomorrow. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Penny For Your Thoughts

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Martin Niemoller

A Facebook friend sent out a really disturbing message the other day. Apparently, someone rang her doorbell one night a few nights ago, not long after 10:00 pm. When her husband answered the door, no one was there. What he found, though was a pile of pennies on the doorstep, formed in the shape of a swastika.

The police were called. The pennies were taken into evidence after being photographed. My friend is alerting synagogues and schools in the area. She reached out to us to share her horror, to warn us. Perhaps, she was searching for answers that just aren't there.

I posted this to my own Facebook page, because I wanted to share my outrage and disgust. I was almost speechless in my fury—a fury that is tinged with just a tiny bit of fear-- that this could happen, that it happened so close to home, that there is such senseless hatred still threaded throughout our world. 

Many of my friends posted their own comments, sharing their own outrage, their passionate disgust and calls for action. And then there was this:

Am I surprised? Of course not! [My daughter] was confronted by two boys 4 weeks before the end of school. They yelled at her, calling  "Jew, Jew" and threw pennies at her feet, telling her to pick them up. This happened not once but twice before she told me.

The onlookers only laughed.

We went through the process at school. Kids were dealt with again by the Administration because they have been bullying kids for years. Guess their policies don't work. The school isn't too bothered or outraged, so it seems. But she was harassed again, by the other kids, because she told.

Then at the proof of residency event last week, the same kids saw her and started yelling 'Jew, Jew, there's the Jew!". She came and got me. I confronted the two boys in front of the Principal and the entire population of parents and kids who stood, looking at their schedules, there in the cafeteria, deftly ignoring the situation. I had a meeting with the Principal,  who ended up deciding that the incident was not serious because it still wasn't officially “school.”

 Will this stop for her? No chance. The school really doesn't have decent policies to deal with the situation. No chance they will kick out the bullies because the school doesn't want to lose the money. There’s been lots of talk to my daughter about not being a victim, about fighting back, about being strong and better than them. Next stop: police. Next stop: lawyer. How pathetic. The school administration should be ashamed that they can't keep the kids in a socially safe learning environment. For them, just another day of trying to make do with crap policies that protect no one. For everyone who says we shouldn't stay silent, well, I can't hear you. Sorry for the tirade but this one is just too close to stay off my soap box.

I can't afford to be speechless, to step down off the soapbox-- especially not about this. "We are better than this!" I want to shout, “Haven’t we learned anything?” Hatred lives and thrives in the dark, in the twisted, ugly places that are guarded by fear and envy and ignorance. Shine a light! We must. We must illuminate this pestilence so that it cannot grow and fester.

This is not a matter of “kids will be kids.” We can't afford to pass this off as a prank or fear that we may overreact, or that our reaction is merely feeding their need for attention. What we shouldn't do-- because that does feed their salacious frenzy for attention-- is posture. We cannot wring our hands and shake our heads in worry or resignation. We cannot just post our outrage and then walk away. When I talk about shining a light into the dark-- I mean it actively. What do we, what do I do about this? How do I teach and shine the light and change the world?

I hate to make this into a comparative lesson, but what if, I stead of a swastika, it was a burning cross, or a some ignorant, racist term spray-painted on a garage, or a vicious cartoon aimed at reviling gays—or the disabled, or Muslim, or fill in the blank for any group, anyone who is marginalized or minimized or made to feel less-than for no other reason than that they are Jewish. Or black. Or gay. Or take your pick—the actions of these hate-mongers is cheap and evil and cowardly. And we cannot let it pass.

We are a people who do not sit idly by. We cannot. We must not. We were commanded in last week's parasha to remember Amalek and what he did to us in the desert. If we do nothing-- Amalek wins. Let's make the desert bloom instead, shine our light so brightly that we change the world.

This is a slightly tweaked version of something I posted on my Facebook page the other day. To date, there have been almost 50 comments, all of them echoing outrage, disgust and the need to mobilize. One of the comments suggested that we gather the pennies on the doorstep to the Holocaust Museum. I’m thinking that’s a great idea.

15 Elul 5773: Learn

Every Friday morning-- at least every Friday morning that we're both in town, which, during the summer can be a challenge-- every Friday morning, before the workday begins, for the last two years, I get to start the day in study with my Rabbi. I treasure those sessions. We sit at a wobbly table at a local Subway, eating our salads for breakfast, then take out the Sefer Aggadah, and dive in. We read and talk.  Discuss. Wander far afield. Disagree occasionally. Discover always.


We're doing it in Hebrew, That is, I'm reading and translating the Hebrew.Needless to say, my Hebrew is-- how shall I say it-- not so much good. After two years, we're only up to Chava. He claims I'm improving. He is very kind, my rabbi is. One of these days, I want to write a book about our study sessions. I have a title already: Conversations of the Chasid and the Musar. I'll leave it to you to figure out which one of us is the Chasid, which the Musar (not that either of us is actually one or the other-- but we tend to approach our discussion from pretty consistently, he from one perspective, me from another. I like to call it twin sides of the same coin-- one is all outward exhilaration, dancing a joyous and celebratory path, the other is a more inward dive, a path of quieter contemplation. Both of our paths lead us to God.)

I can't imagine having a better way to start my day (that it is also just before Shabbat is an added bonus). I would be a professional student if I could. I don't know that there are many (any?) subjects I wouldn't want to jump into, splash around in the ideas and equations and arguments they have to offer. I want to learn the intricate beauty of fractals and string theory, understand the tragedy of ancient Rome and modern Egypt, Picasso's use of blue and Alinsky's use of direct action. I want to learn everything.

Sigh. I'm going to guess that that's one wish that will remain unfulfilled.

What I have managed to learn is astounding. Yes, yes-- I'm a school wonk, a study geek. I got me some book learning. The amount of minutiae and esoteric scholarly stuff that I've forgotten -- let alone learned -- would keep me awake at night if I ever thought about it. It may or may not have helped me in my actual life. Trust me: I'm not so sure that my PhD work in Early Modern English history was a relevant factor in landing me my job (Not directly, at least. Let's not get into the debate on how learning to think and write critically makes me who I am. I get that in spades) (And it has been helpful-- all of my training in history-- as a Jewish educator, so there's that).

The trick is, especially now, as I make my way through Elul to the promised land of the new year, the trick is recognizing the important learning that I've done. There's been a truckload of that, too. Let me break it down some.

I have learned
  • There's nothing so bad that a drink won't make worse
  • Sometimes the people you love will fail you. Remember that they are human, and sometimes, humans fail. 
  • Sometimes the people you love offer a hand to hold in the darkness and shine a light so that you can find your way.
  • Sometimes this is done by complete strangers
  • Sometimes life is pretty crappy
  • Even in the crappy stuff, there are moments of sudden brilliance and wonder
  • It's ok to yell at God. Dometimes it's the only prayer we have to offer. God appreciates the conversation and loves a good argument
  • I have wounded people I love dearly
  • There's a difference between humility and humiliation; I get to choose where I stand in that
  • I have two families-- the one into which I was born, and the one I have chosen along the way. Today I am grateful for both
  • Pray to God, but row towards shore
  • Practice kindness. It matters
  • So does compassion
  • The dictum "If you don't open it, you don't owe it" and its corollary "If you ignore it long enough, it goes away" are not true. No matter how much I'd like for them to be.
  • Read some, study some, laugh some, learn some-- every day. It makes your heart full and keeps your soul dancing
  • It's all Torah. Really
  • I'm ok with contradictions.
  • Life will not always turn out the way I want it to. 
  • My best intentions will not always produce the outcomes I plan on
  • Some learning is hard. 
  • My son has taught me everything I know about love, patience and God. Not necessarily in that order.
There's more. There's always more. That's another thing I've learned: there's always something next, something after. It's the Scheherazade syndrome (I just made that up): life happens, a whirling, swirling mess o' life, filled with adventure and boredom and love and betrayal-- and at the end of every day, I sit, like the King in 1001 Nights and say "Not bad. I guess we'll do it one more time, see what happens next."

I am blessed beyond belief. That was a hard lesson to learn. I am grateful for all the lessons, even the hard one (maybe especially the hard one). I am grateful to all my teachers. I can't wait to see where my learning takes me next...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

14 Elul 5773: Remember

I have an excellent memory. I remember (see-- this is what I'm talking about) in every grade, all the way through college, people used to tell me how smart I was. And while I secretly agreed with them, I'd brush it off with: "I just have a great memory. Anyone can memorize a bunch of facts. It's what you do with the facts you know that makes you smart."

I remember a lot of stuff. It was easier a year or ten ago. Now, it's easier to remember that I used to know something than remember something I actually know. It's not just the esoterica of an earlier life-- the bits and pieces of a liberal arts education that seemed so important to know at one time, I remember that I used to know things-- about genetics and geography, constitutional law and the 14th century Holy Roman Empire. If there even was a Holy Roman Empire by then. I could google it, but-- you get the point. I remember I used to know all that stuff.

And it's not just names (I was never good at those). Words escape me (which terrifies me on several different levels). You've got to know of my love affair with words by now. I love how they taste and feel and sing. I know a lot of words. Favorite book? The Oxford English Dictionary, with its etymologies and magnifying glass-- that and a good cup of coffee will keep me happy for days. My motto is "why use ten words when a hundred will do?" 

These days, I"ll be writing or talking, and I'll look for a word. I know it's there. It means something like something else. I can almost see it, floating on dust motes or dancing a pixilated waltz across my screen. And I can't remember it. It ain't coming. Not no way, not no how. It makes me want to scream: Aaaaargh! It's almost there! Dammit, I had it just a second ago.

Except it wasn't just a second ago. It was sometime before, in the Not Now. I used to know it. Can feel it's outlines, ghost-like in my memory, but less real. Sometimes, when I'm lucky, if I tiptoe away from it, take a minute or ten to breathe, it drifts back into view, ready for me to capture.   

This is facts and figures, though, not the remembery stuff of Elul.              

If I take this journey in an effort to really see who I am, where I fit, how I connect to you and to God, then I must remember, not the facts of my life, but how I showed up, what I brought with me, what I took away. It's not a catalog of events, but rather a collection of me-- all of me. this is pay every attention to the man behind the curtain. This is the me without subterfuge or camouflage, raw and honest and vulnerable-- not to the slings and arrows in your quiver, but to the mirrors I hold in my hands. 

My mother tells me "Stacey, you only remember the bad things." And I do remember that. there are times (it shames me to admit) that I feel as if I carry a secret invisible scorecard in my head, tallying up all the slights and hurts that have wounded me. And trust me-- I do not have a companion tally of my part in any of this. My scorecard is, ever and always, the story of how you failed me or were at fault. Poor me, poor me. Poor, poor pitiful me, garbed in righteous indignation and crowned in moral superiority.

This is also not the stuff of Elul. 

It is about setting aside my imaginary scoreboard. It's about understanding my part in my own life, and where we fit in it together. It's remembering that we all walk our own path to God, and my job is to be kind, to have compassion, to forgive. It's remembering the good stuff, the small and gentle stuff, the individual moments of holiness, the sudden and surprising depths of wonder and joy. It's about showing up, ready to shine a light and find the beauty of my humanity.

And when I do, when I can remember and see all of me, without fear of what I might find, I become ready to walk through the gates that will be flung wide for me-- for all of us. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

13 Elul 5773: Forgive

I have been writing a series of essays that I call The Enough Essays. I started the project several months ago, as the result of a chance meeting, an act of supreme bravery, and a sudden realization that, in fact, I am-- in and of myself-- enough. You can read the original, Enough, and then some here

That first piece is mostly about the generalities of my enoughness. Funny thing, though: as I was polishing it and putting on the finishing touches, I had a small epiphany: I realized that I am enough in a whole bunch of ways. This is not to say that I'm perfect in any of them-- not be a long shot! But I'm also not woefully deficient, either. So adding to the general enoughness, I wrote about them as well: faith, hope, grace, world-saving and mom-hood. They're scattered throughout my blog, in no particular order, though most have the word "enough" in the title. 

There are more-- some posted on my blog, many more still swirling about in my head, waiting to be written. There are always more, because one of the gifts of diving deep and discovering who I am and how I fit, is finding all those pieces of enoughness.

But here's the thing, the secret thing, the I'd-really-like-to-keep-this-under-a-rock thing: there are some dark places in there. Places I'd prefer not to disturb. Places I'd have to use a ladder to get to far-from-being-enough. I won't bore you with the gory details. If that means the hidden spots stay hidden a little while longer, so be it. They've managed to thrive as they lurk and slither through the muck.

This is Elul, though, and I am called to dive a little deeper, shine the light a little brighter. As scary as those dark and twisty places are, there are a few questions that I can't quite keep quiet. Not now, not while I've committed to walking this particular path. So.

When am I forgiven enough-- for my humanity, my brokenness? When do I say I've had enough pain? When do I demand "Enough" and then have the courage to lay all those broken bits of me, the hidden places and twisted secrets-- when do I have courage enough to lay them down? How can I be redeemed when I still cling to all of this, more intimately than a lover's embrace?

How can I ask your forgiveness, ask forgiveness of God, when I cannot forgive myself?

And perhaps because this is Elul, because I have committed to illuminating all of me-- the good, the bad, warts and all-- I am reminded (when I get quiet enough, am still enough): when I leap, I am caught. Without fail. I know how to forgive, how to show up with compassion and kindness. For you. Perhaps I need to dive a little deeper, and find the compassion of forgiveness for myself. 

And those leaps? They don't have to be made with seven mile boots. A stumble, a step at a time is enough. Who knows-- maybe this is the year I will find forgiveness enough to return.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Twelve Elul 5773: Trust


Ha! I was really planning on skipping this one. Take it from me: it's overrated. When it's dark and I'm feeling particularly broken and lost, I have no problem trusting that you will fail me, that God will leave me, that the other shoe will drop soon. Most likely on my head. causing grave physical and psychic pain. All the other trust stuff? I tried it once. It turned out badly. As I said. I think I'll skip this one.

Trouble is, I can't. Dammit.

First off, I made a commitment. Not that you would necessarily care, I but I did commit to Blogging Elul (please note the capital letters and the implied stentorian tone). It has come to be a fascinating discipline. Much as I'd prefer, based upon the topic, the day or the alignment of the planets, to defer, delay and desist-- I made a commitment. 

The other reason is not quite so easy or straightforward. I came relatively late to my current level of observance and my mindful brand of Judaism. I skipped around a lot, a spiritual journey for the ADHD set. A God junky by thirteen, an apostate by fifteen and spiritually desperate and lost about a minute and a half later, I took to whatever bright and shiny thing caught my eye. Mostly, I denied my search, and settled for diving into a bottle.

It came as quite a shock to me that I went from believing in the pain and despair of nothing, to believing in miracles, all in the blink of an eye. Or at least, what seemed like it. In a blink, a heartbeat, a twisty, turny tortuous path, I got sober.

While I may have started, quite tenuously, to believe in miracles, on all the other stuff-- faith and hope and trust and God-- I was still a bit shell-shocked and resistant. I mean, really-- I had clear evidence (so it seemed to me) that faith was a sham, hope was a sordid and dirty mess, and trust merely a prolonged lesson in pain. I'll spare you that tale of my journey to (and in) sobriety (although please feel free to read them here, at Simple Stories and Anniversary).

Early on in my sobriety, when every day was a Herculean effort to fit, to be able to sit comfortably in my own skin, to not crawl back inside a bottle, to stop feeling so raw and exposed, I went to meetings. Lots of them. Sometimes one after the other, for hours at a time, until a morning, an evening, a major chunk of a day was gobbled in meetings, surrounded by other drunks all fighting to stay sober a minute, an hour, a day at a time.

It'a not that I don't go to meetings now, but they don't feel so desperate these days, so much a razor-thin dividing line between me and intimate dance with my fear and pain.

So there, at one of the eleventy-seven thousand meetings in early sobriety that I used to haunt, where my skin crawled and I felt ready to jump out of it, I heard a woman give a lead, the very end of which was a prayer: Please God, let me learn to be open, honest, trusting and vulnerable every day, a day at a time.

I may have stopped breathing at that exact moment. For certain, my head caught fire. Asking-- actually praying-- for those things. "What are you-- crazy?" Bad enough, to ask; worse to do so publicly. I wanted to shout, and jeer and pound the table with derision and condescension.

Instead, I wept.

For all that those particular traits terrified me, that somebody offered a prayer, simply, peacefully, hopefully, to a roomful of intimate strangers... God, I wanted that. I yearned for that, and I didn't even realize my longing, until that very instant. "God," I echoed, "please let me be these things, trusting, hopeful, vulnerable. Please." 

I still echo those words, almost every day, in some iteration or other. More than 20 years later, they still have the power to take my breath away, fill me with wonder and make me weep. I still don't do them very well, though practicing is not quite the chore it once was. They're tough, though. My first thought is still, more often than I care to admit, to deflect, to hide, to keep the barriers at defcon five. 

Every so often, light gets in. Every once in a while, the steady practice of my simple, borrowed prayer takes hold, and I find that I trust, that I open myself to God and the universe, that I allow myself to be vulnerable with dignity and strength. I allow myself to hope. Every so often, I remember that when I finally leap, in my faith and trust, I am caught. Every time. 

And so today, 12 Elul, I offer this prayer: Dear God, please let me be honest, open, trusting and vulnerable today. Please let me leap, so that I can soar.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Elul Day Eleven: Count

When I was about five years sober, I started listening to AA tapes. For those of you not in the know, these are (were? I would guess that the technology has progressed, but I'm not sure. we alcoholics really know how to cling to tradition and the way it used to be...) Anyway, these were cassette tapes of speakers, folks who shared their experience, strength and hope with us, a simple and profound message of living a sober life a day at a time. They were not Greater Than folks. we were not Less Than others. They just really had a story to tell and did it amazingly well.

I remember one such speaker well. I have no idea what his name is. I never met him. He was from California and he was part of the speaker circuit. we learned early on in AA that one of the ways to keep your sobriety is to give it away-- to share, and help another alcoholic to achieve sobriety. As we say, you can carry the message or be the message: pick.

These guys carried the message spectacularly.

So. This guy. He was speaking form the vantage point of 20 years or so of sobriety, and he reminded his (invisible) audience of the value of time. He talked about slips in early sobriety-- you pull together a bit of time, a couple of hours, a handful of days-- but apparently, you're not quite finished with your despair and your love affair with self destruction, not quite ready to get honest, be raw and vulnerable, far away from asking for help and getting humble enough (or desperate enough) to accept it-- and there you are: drunk again.

And that drunk is welcomed back into the rooms with open arms and gentle nods. Keep coming back. It works if you work it... It's ok, we say. We hope you get it. We hope you stay. We hope you get sober. And so they try again, climb up on the wagon and put together some time, a couple of days, a month or three. Maybe they make it. Most don't, but some of us are blessed beyond belief with this gift. Some remain scouts, testing the waters to see if being "out there" gets any better.

I've never heard a story, in over twenty years, that it has. 

So this guy. Again with the guy. And counting. because this is an essay about counting. This guy reminded us that it's about counting. Yes, he declared, the most sober person in the rooms is the one who woke up earliest  today. Today, because we are only given a daily reprieve. So the trick, the joy, the simple, difficult, terrifying and only thing that really matter, is to put together a day. And then another. And another after that. 

A day becomes a week becomes a year becomes a lifetime. Our days count. They add up. They mean something. This is the whole point of it: as we count our days, all of us, sober or not, drunks or "normal"-- we add our days: one + one + another and another to equal a life that counts. A life that matters. 

Now, on this eleventh day of Elul, as I consider my life, who I am and where I fit, preparing to stand at the gates of everything, to walk humbly with God, I understand a holy arithmatic. In living a life that matters, in making my days count, one plus one plus one equals infinity.

PS-- I am a little obsessed with counting. Go figure. I wrote this essay, Time and Light, about a year ago. It;s about marking and measuring time, and how that changes us, and who we might become. I hope you enjoy it. 


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Elul Day Ten: See

Close your eyes.

No, really: close them-- but not so tightly that you see those stunning bursts of colored light-- sharp spots of bright jewel tones that are so easy to follow with your mind's eye, and thus so easy to miss the sensation of sinking into dark. Let your eyes flutter, then still. Keep them closed as your body slips into silence. Can you feel it? Everything in you follows your breath as you exhale, that downward shift of release, a gentle leaving, and a slow falling away, down and down and down through your body. Can you feel that>

Close your eyes, and your world, your body, your breath changes.

Keep them closed, there in your altered universe, and look inside. See, really see... everything. Dive, with your breath, with the slipping away of light, and see you-- your grace, and the glory that shines through and limns everything with silver and gold.  See the shadow paths leading to your secret places, all dark and twisty and bent. See every one of the infinite subtle shades of grey that dance in you and through you. Now. Today. This is the time to see. This is the time to dive deep and see. 

Believe me: there is no Knight of Mirrors, no harsh reflections of broken glass intended to shock you into sensibility. This is falling up, gentle as breath, soft as summer. Today, now: see the wonder, your goodness and strength. See the brokenness that lives in you as well: the thoughtless indulgence and unthinking, breathtaking compassion. See your joy, your grief, your sorrow. See your weariness, your willingness, your want.

They are all you. They are what you bring, what you take away. How can you choose differently, if you do not see what it is you have to offer, here at the edges of the year? Today. This is the time. If not now, when?

Just close your eyes. Close your eyes and see.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Elul Day Nine: Hear

There's a cacophony of noise going on in my head. There are a thousand conversations happening, all at the same time, about everything. Or about nothing. A thousand? Sometimes it's ten thousand. Sometimes it's infinity. The sound swells and recedes like the ceaselessness of the ocean. I can't remember the last time my head wasn't filled with sound.

I would really like for the noise to stop.

That's a wish pulled from the depths of my earliest memories (and I have a memory bordering on the ancient, trust me): please, just make the noise-- that dull, droning, sub-vocalized, just-at-the-edge-of-hearing noise that sets your teeth on edge and your skin buzzing-- make that noise stop. Please. That may be my wish, perhaps my prayer. Thing is, I've never been quite patient enough to wait. I've never been trusting enough to believe that my prayer would be answered (at least, not answered with a "Certainly, Stacey, coming right up!"), or my wish granted. I've always felt the need to help it along.

And help it I did. At least, that was the plan. I threw everything I could at the problem, mostly none of it healthy. Addiction is an insidious creature, whispering of a redemption bought with self-destruction. One more seductive voice (in a myriad of voices) added to the chaos in my head, and I chased that siren song with desperation-tinged despair that I could have sworn was hope.

But that was long ago and far away. Right? Right? 

Still a wish. Still a prayer: please make the noise in my head stop. And I still step right up, to fix it, all on my own. And every time I shoulder the burden of my own prayer, all I manage to do is turn the amps up. To eleven. 

God, but it's noisy in here. It's an ocean of sound and I am drowning in it. Writing helps, some. Singing, too. And prayer. I still have a few dark and twisty places inside, so that my manic attempts aren't always quite so healthy as that. They all tamp it down, make it less whinging and relentless, bring some melody to the disparate notes I hear. That I always hear.

How ironic, then, that the prompt for today, day nine of this holy month of Elul is Hear. Hear? You have got to be kidding me. All I do is hear, ceaselessly, endlessly without respite. All I want is quiet, a moment of silence, a chance to breathe, to think, to be. Just be. 

But this is Elul, and I am called to use a different lens through which to pass my all this: to bend ideas just a little, so that the light reflects and shines differently than before. So that I can see-- or hear-- a new song. And when I do, when I bend all those voices through the prism of Elul, something new:

I am terrified of silence. 

I am afraid to get that quiet, quiet enough so that I can really hear. Really hear the sound of my heart, the song of my soul, the music of God. To be still, to be quiet, to hear-- myself. To hear my hope, my despair, my prayer. And then to wait, in quiet stillness, to hear God's answers. To let the fear go, in my quiet, that there will be nothing there, a cavernous, echoing silence, to realize, in fact, that I am alone.

I surround myself with noise-- a great cacophony, a glorious, messy din, so that I can avoid hearing my fear. I avoid the breathtaking beauty of silence. And for all of that, I miss out on the brilliant sound between the notes-- and it is there that God's voice lives. 

So, on this ninth day of Elul, I am given (I offer?) a new prayer: please-- let me learn quiet enough to listen, let me find courage enough to be still so that I can hear, finally, the music between the notes. 

And into that glorious stillness, I will say "amen."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elul, Day Eight: Believe

I set out to write something profound here, some lyrical piece of prose that weaves a myriad of disparate threads into a single and vibrant whole that creates a luminous and holy path to Belief.

I want to bring you to the mountaintop, so that you can feel the presence of God, find that transcendent arc that allows you to dance in God's hand. I want to hear that sigh, of relief, of recognition-- yes; this is it, this is what I believe, this is good. Like coming home after a hard journey, not to fanfare and parades, but to warmth and love and gentleness.

What I get, more often than not, is a heavy use of my delete key: pixels scattering through the ether, getting eaten by the very hungry ghosts in my machine. What I get, more often than not, is doubt.

Belief can be hard.

It feels so much like walking on a high wire without a net, belief does. It's a precarious perch, and I hate to admit that, after decades of mindful searching, I find I misplace my belief almost as often as I find it. Dammit-- why can't I have what Maimonides proclaimed: I believe with perfect faith...

What I have learned-- slowly, very slowly-- is that my belief is a living thing: it grows and recedes and changes. What I believed as a child has changed. Thank God. Back then, I believed some pretty weird things, not least of which was that magic was real, unicorns lived and my baby brother was part chicken because he had to live in an incubator for a while after he was born (long story short: he was not part chicken, though he was jaundiced).  As an adult, I can ask: What belief hasn't changed?

There was a time I did not believe in God.

There was a much longer (and more desperate) time I believed God didn't believe in me.

There was a time that I didn't believe in myself. This one is still true. Sometimes.

There was a time I believed I was broken, unfixable, irredeemable. That's the thing about belief: it changes. It deepens, softens, drifts in an ever-shifting pattern.

As I prepare to dance that transcendent and holy arc of the High Holy Days, Elul gives me a breath of time to challenge my beliefs, to be mindful of them, to examine them in the light of day and under cover of star-bright skies. When I look close enough, I can see, woven among the thousand thousand strands of my belief, is doubt and cynicism and naivete. My disbelief is there to be challenged just as well.

Finally, I understand: It's all good-- my belief, my doubt. It is neither black nor white, the world of my belief: it is a bright and shining place of glorious silver. I don't need to be like the Rambam; I don't need to believe perfectly, I just need to believe.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elul, Day Seven: Be

I had a friend who used to say to me, "Stacey, you're a human being, not a human doing."


I am not overly fond of trite aphorisms (except insofar as they allow me to use words like "aphorism"). The problem with silly little phrases like this is that they tend to hold a kernel of truth, and belie a richness and depth that I can't really afford to ignore.

Here's the thing: I spend an awful lot of time doing. Doing is important. Holy, even. It is the thing that allows us to accomplish, to move the needle and fix the broken stuff. To do is to put my faith in action, to crawl outside of my head and leave my tiny universe of one. To do is to connect, in some way, with the world around me and the people who inhabit it.

Like I said: holy.

Here's the problem, though: a lot of my doing is empty doing. It is motion for the sake of motion: frenzied, manic, shoot from the hip. I tend to be a whirling dervish of doing. Remember the old Ed Sullivan Show, and the guy who ran around with the spinning plates while The Sabre Dance played with wild abandon in the background? That's me: Platespinner. I am so intent on keeping all the plates from crashing to the ground, I don't ever stop to think why I'm running around with spinning plates to begin with.

Being is as holy as doing. It's part of the same sacred dance, a recognition that I am, that God is. It's a way to honor that you are. I don't need to define it any further. There is no modifier necessary, although I can certainly think of an infinite array of words-- and each one of them, no matter how right, how fitting, how loving, each one limits and defines and boxes up the you or the me or the God, and in so doing, keeps us safe and disconnected and in control.

So, today, 07 Elul, I am reminded that even amid the noise and chatter and constant motion of my life, even in purposeful doing, there is holiness in my stillness, in my simply being.

I am. 
You are. 
God is. 
We are.

A holy declension of "to be," a sacred grammar.